Wednesday, December 15, 2010
It’s not enough to Merely State “I don’t Like Hitler!”
What happens when we reject the possibility that there are moral absolutes? I posed the question, “If you deny that genocide is absolutely wrong, on the basis of what would you resist a Hitler?” One moral relativist responded, “It doesn't matter whether or not Hitler objectively wrong, I would still defy him because I don't like him.” Here’s my response:
In taking this position, you are reducing morality to a visceral reaction. This is inadequate for a number of reasons:
1. Reducing morality to a visceral reaction deprives you of any objective basis by which you can work out interpersonal differences. To what higher, more sure principle can you appeal?
2. Such an orientation places you at odds with yourself. While your heart tells you that certain things are wrong, your mind and reason aren’t in agreement. They are telling you there are no objective moral absolutes and therefore everything is morally relative. Thus, you are at odds with yourself.
3. Such a schizoid position will render you ineffective in confronting evil. It is inevitable that you will be internally torn in two. Feeling that genocide is wrong, but not having any objective rationale against it. What will you be able to say to the murderer apart from, “I don’t like what you are doing?” He can simply respond, “Well, I do!” Without any objective standards to appeal to, society will not be able to mediate between the two positions, and our legal systems will erode.
4. Without supportive intellectual objective framework for morality (which you reject), your visceral judgments are no more than electro-chemical reactions and/or arbitrary social conventions. (“Murder is wrong because I simply feel that it’s so! Or because society, at least for now, has deemed it so!”)
5. While moral absolutes are unchanging, our feelings about things are in constant flux. You might be repulsed by the Nazis, but the next morning the repulsion will be replaced by fear for you and your family. If subjective feelings exclusively determine our moral responses, what happens to our moral responses when the feelings change? Capitulation to the fear! Courage is not a matter of not experiencing fear. It’s a matter of having something even greater than the fear.
6. How can society punish its miscreants if it’s all just a matter of changing tastes? What can we pass on to our children if everything is subjective? What right do we have to pass on our own subjective tastes to them? Perhaps they are inclined otherwise? What right do we have to impose our tastes on them?
7. If there are no moral absolutes, then there can’t be any meaningful discussion about law, legislation, and morality. It’s all just a matter of taste. We state our tastes and that’s the end of it. Such an intellectual vacuum will inevitably be filled by might-makes-right. This is what happened in communistic/atheistic societies. Lenin was asked, “What is moral under the communist system. He answered, “Whatever promotes the Revolution is good; whatever hinders it is bad!” Consequently, many millions of their own people were slaughtered to promote their revolution.
In contrast to your position, Bible not only states that there are unchanging moral absolutes, but that we all know what they are:
• Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. (Romans 2:14-15)
Indeed, today we know that we are neurologically wired for moral truth and moral judgments. Although we may deny the reality of moral absolutes with our mouth, we violate this denial with the very way we live our lives. Who then can take this denial seriously!